Oh, sure. Looking back, there were signs all over the place. You know what they say about hindsight.
It was the summer of 2007. Diane and Donnie Duplissis had just let themselves into the house they rented on Dodge Pond in Rangeley. Beautiful place. Better than the brochures even.
The weather was great. Friends were on the way. What could possibly go wrong?
“I was so excited,” says Diane. “We just started looking around, checking the place out. It was wonderful.”
Before long, Jeanne and George Rubly had joined them with their chocolate Lab Justice in tow. The group was together once more.
They settled right into the impressive A-frame on the pond. They were only mildly annoyed to find that the place had not been made spic and span for their arrival.
There was the matter of dishes left out. There was the matter of food in the cupboards and fridge, some of it half eaten. There was a turkey in there, for crying out loud, and a half-empty gallon of ice cream.
“We thought: Look at these idiots,” says Diane. “They left all this food here.”
“So,” says Jeanne, “we started cleaning it all out.”
“We filled a trash barrel full,” Diane says, and squirms a little.
There were other things, too. Just minor nuisances, really. There was clutter instead of the neat and orderly rental they had expected.
“There was a tape measure sitting out,” says Donnie, a burly, bearded and animated fellow. “There was a row of lights waiting to be installed. I took them downstairs to get them out of the way.”
As the story is told, Jeanne is staring off into nothing, remembering the layout of the place, recalling the growing nuisances as they waded in. She is grinning a little as she remembers.
“Another thing I noticed was a coat rack,” she says. “There were coats and hats on it. I’ve never seen that at a rental.”
But really, it was insignificant stuff. The couples were on Dodge Pond for just a week, so they didn’t want to spend much time grousing. The faster they got settled in, the sooner the fun could begin.
They set up a hammock for lazy afternoons. They pushed tables and chairs into a more convenient configuration. They made extra room for the dog to roam.
“We made ourselves at home,” says Diane.
“The only thing I was complaining about,” says George, a former cop and a quiet man, “was that there was no pool table. There was supposed to be a pool table.”
The group next climbed the stairs to take a look at things up there. Up there was the master bedroom and a bathroom. And it was there that those feelings of mild annoyance made the leap to outright disgust.
There was the matter of hair in the bathroom sink. There were towels, still damp, strewn around the room. Some fool had even forgotten to remove the toothbrush left behind by the last occupant of this A-frame on the pond.
“I was disgusted,” says Donnie, a man who likes things neat. “I went all commando on that bathroom. I cleaned it like it had never been cleaned before. I probably spent an hour and a half in there.”
In the bedroom, they found clothes stuffed into drawers and more hanging in closets. Whoever owned this house hadn’t bothered to store such things for the convenience of renters. It was maddening, really. But what are you going to do? Spend precious vacation time complaining?
Night had come. Time to sleep, in anticipation of high times to come.
Diane and Donnie slid in under the sheets in the upstairs bedroom. They slept divinely.
The following day was vacation bliss. They had breakfast and roamed around at leisure. No schedule to keep, no clocks to punch. Sweet, sweet vacation.
At dusk, they grilled a porterhouse steak. They uncorked a bottle of wine and sat around, sipping and chatting, in the newly arranged living room.
“I had my feet up on the table,” says Diane. “I was looking through the Realtor’s brochure.”
“We came across our rental,” says Jeanne, grinning that sly grin again. “For some reason, I started counting the windows.”
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Seven windows on the front of the house in the glossy pages of the brochure.
A glance around the room. One, two, three, four. Just four windows on the house they had moved into.
Realization came all at once. All those little signs they’d picked up the night before suddenly merged together. The food in the fridge, clothes in the drawers. The lone toothbrush in the bathroom and hair in the sink.
George, the former cop, said it first.
“I said, ‘You know what? I think we’re in the wrong house.’”
Like Goldilocks before them, they had been sleeping in someone else’s bed, handling someone else’s food, rearranging a stranger’s furniture.
“But the key!” Diane insists, and the others nod agreement. “The key the Realtor gave us, it fit the door!”
George went to work on the mystery. He went to check out another A-frame a short distance away. It had five windows instead of seven. He tried the key.
It opened that door, too.
The second A-frame was empty and tidy. No food in the fridge. No toothbrush hanging over a sink. George took a look and, wouldn’t you know it? There was a pool table in there.
“He came back with all that information,” says Donnie. “He said, ‘Yes. We’re in the wrong house.’”
It was equal parts hilarity and mortification. Donnie and Diane had slept in a stranger’s bed. They had showered in a stranger’s tub.
And now they had to bolt like thieves.
“We were all unpacked!” Diane says. “We had thrown out their food and removed their clothes from the drawers. We had moved right in! Oh, it was awful.”
What occurred to them all was that the homeowner could have returned at any time. It could have been – well — awkward is probably not strong enough a word.
“It’s the what-ifs,” says Donnie. “This person could have showed up at any time. They could have showed up the night before while we were in bed. I would have gone all Rambo. It could have ended really badly.”
Ugly. And a little bit funny. But mostly ugly at first.
The mad scramble was on. A call to the real estate agent confirmed what atrocious mistake had been made. Time to pack in record time and flee the house they had, by some definitions of the word, burglarized.
“We had to put everything back the way it was,” Donnie says. “At least, we tried to.”
“It had taken us six hours to move in,” says Jeanne. “But within one hour, we were out of there. We didn’t care what belonged to which of us at that point. We just packed it all up and got out.”
Home is where you hang your hat
Later, they were settled into the other house, the right house. From there, they could see the place they had called home for a night. A woman lived there by herself, they had learned. A doctor from Yarmouth.
Donnie just can’t quit the what-ifs, even now.
“Can you imagine if she had come home when we were all hunkered down?” he ponders uncomfortably. “She would have called the sheriff. They would have come from all over the place.”
The doctor did come home that night. But by then, the foursome who had inhabited her living space had fled like startled raccoons. They were down the road, watching warily as she went inside.
“We watched from behind the curtains,” Diane says. “We were too embarrassed to go tell her we were the people who were in her home. She seemed really calm.”
“She was a good sport about it,” Donnie said. “I guess.”
Hard to know for sure. The couples spent the remainder of their vacation trying to get a second chance at relaxation. It was a good time and all, but they never could bring themselves to walk to the second A-frame and introduce themselves.
“It didn’t ruin our time,” says George. “We had a lot of laughs that week.”
When they talk about it these days, it all goes back to that one thing – the one thing that caused them to overlook all of the signs that something wasn’t right.
“It’s the key,” Donnie says. “The key opened the door.”
Murmurs of agreement. A collective squirm of uneasiness that lingers even three years later.
Then George breaks the silence: “I’ll bet she has new locks now, though.”
And then, look at that! It’s funny again instead of just plain embarrassing.
More vacation horrors
When you get right down to it, every vacation is potentially a perfect storm for disaster.
You’ve got your kids and, sometimes, your pets. You’ve got long rides in traffic, money woes and the adventures of hotel rooms or campgrounds.
There are crowds of strangers, flight delays and hasty meals at questionable diners.
Luggage gets lost, kids get cranky and there’s always that God-awful smell from the back seat.
With all those explosive ingredients tossed together, is it any wonder why so many good times go bad?
Here are a few experts on the subject, men and women who can clearly define when that dream vacation transformed into a nightmare. This is the dark side of high times, with explosions, vanishing children, automatic weapons and flash floods.
Please remain seated in the upright position and keep your sick bags close at hand. Thank you for flying the B Section and remember: no refunds.
Starting a trip with a bang: Moe Bolduc, 72, of Auburn
“South Carolina in 2000, at a Mobil station off I-95. We were en route to Florida.
“As I had finished gassing up my car, I heard what sounded like a backfire. There was an older pickup truck loaded with furniture entering the convenience store parking lot and headed toward the pumps. I was walking to the store entrance to pay for the gas when the truck again backfired. When I got to the store I handed the clerk my credit card and heard another loud noise. As I looked to my left front toward the gas pumps, I saw people running and flames coming up from the hood of the pickup truck.
“It was very scary for me seeing (wife) Sandy sitting in the car and 25 feet or so to the rear and left of her (is) a truck ready to explode. Because of the gas pumps and islands, she was not able to see the fire.
“I screamed to the girl at the cash register to call 911. I then ran to my car, jumped in and drove away from the store and across the roadway and stopped on the side of the road. Sandy told me she heard a commotion and a woman motioned for her to get out, but she said she thought someone was fighting in the parking lot and did not want to get involved.”
All the ingredients for a Lifetime movie: Kim Rundstrom, 32, of Lewiston
“2006. While vacationing in Orlando, my 3-year-old son let himself out of our condo while I was in the bathroom and my husband had laid down for a nap. I came out of the bathroom and asked my 6-year-old where his brother was, which he didn’t know, and (I) ran outside.
“Apparently the grounds crew had taken him to the front office. The manager wouldn’t let me have my son back because my son said he didn’t know my name, but my husband assured her we were his parents. Then while we were in the pool, two sheriffs came and made me get out and read me the riot act.
“All of the ‘questioning’ took place poolside in front of everyone. I pretty much wanted to crawl in a hole.
“After that, I grilled my son on what my name was, and he told us the only reason he acted like he didn’t know me was because he knew he was in trouble for getting out.
“The door was locked, by the way, but the latch was within his reach. I guess not a true horror story, but definitely wasn’t one of the most pleasant times on our vacation.”
A vacation that stinks … and blows: Steve Hinson, 42, of Lewiston
“We went on a camping trip to Orrs Island. The night prior we had some lobsters. Put all of it in the trash, and around midnight attracted the biggest skunk I ever saw. I let him just do his thing, then the raccoons showed up and chased him off. He left some of his wonderful perfume behind. All of this upset my ex-wife, which in turn made her ill.
“That morning I took my daughter – I think she was around 5 or 6 – out for a canoe ride. We rented the canoe from the campground. Out we went. She was all happy looking at the fish. I looked back toward shore and watched the wind tracking across the water at us and remembered thinking ‘Oh, this is gonna suck.’ And it did.
“Being the only one that could paddle, I couldn’t bring the front back around. So as I’m paddling furiously – trying to get back to shore while not letting on to my daughter what’s going on – we’re getting further and further out. When the wind died down a bit I turned around in the seat and was able to get back to shore after several hours.
“When I got close enough to shore, I jumped over and walked it back around the island to where we’d started. When we got back to the site, my ex said ‘You’re late!’ (I) told her to shut up and start packing to go home.”
Heart-pounding river adventure — Eric Kaiser, 46, of Auburn
“We were visiting my wife’s family in Columbus, Ohio, last summer and went to a water park there on a very hot day. After hitting some of the more fast-paced water rides we decided to take the kids on the Lazy River, where you can float around the park on tubes.
“We got a little ways down the river and realized our youngest son was nowhere to be found. Panic settled in real fast. I could literally feel the blood leave my head and pool into my heart, which was beating a thousand times a second. It was like a scene out of a movie where all the noise around you is muted and all I could hear was my own heart beat.
“We notified the lifeguards posted around the area. My wife and older son continued forward looking for him while I went against the current to see if he was behind us. I made my way back to the beginning of the ride and there was no sign of him.
“I went back into the river and went all the way around fighting my way through the crowds of people asking if they had seen a 6-year-old blonde with a white shirt. Silly question; there had to be at least 300 kids who matched that description. Half way through I saw my wife and son, who at this point were crying.
“More than 20 minutes had passed at this point. I felt the need to go back to the beginning of the ride. I made my way around and who did I see sitting at the entrance but Nicholas, crying.
“I was so relieved, but also angry. Angry at myself that I lost sight of my son. Angry that the lifeguard standing 20 feet away was clueless to the little boy crying. Angry at my son for slipping away, but I know it wasn’t his fault. All that anger melted away as I approached him and simply gave him a big hug.
“It’s one of those life experiences that reminds you of what’s important in life.”
Packin’ heat. Feelin’ heat: Jimmy Jolin, former Mainer now living in North Carolina:
“Went out with the brother-in-law in Brazil. While at a bar with a couple of chiquitas he decides to show me his new 9 mm. Next thing I know, I am surrounded by the Federalies with automatic weapons demanding to know ‘onde esta do drugas?’ Oh crap, on more than one level.
“I didn’t know much Portuguese and just kept responding ‘eu quer falar com do consulado Americano.’ Thought I would end up in the federal prison for who knows how long.
“They gave the gun back to Jenser and told us to follow them to the station. This seemed a little backwards to me, but after a couple of hours of getting checked out and them learning that I was not a member of the American cartel, they let us walk. No charges for the gun because his father was a senator at the time and a little palm greasing helped.
“We picked up a couple bottles and drove home. And though my wife goes almost every year, I have not been back to Brazil.”
Yeah, for spontaneity! — Rich Willette, 43, Waterville
“Went to a camp ground near Storyland and it started raining shortly after setting up the tent. Was almost dark, so went to bed thinking it would pass, and head to the attractions in the morning. Our tent developed a leak and, being a good husband, I laid under the leak.
“At 3 a.m. the park people came and woke us saying we had to leave because the Saco River, which we were 100 yards from, was flooding. No motels open. Drove back home with some very sad and tired kids.
“Sore point on my part for not checking the weather. Ex always said be more spontaneous. Well, that’s what you get.”